An Open Letter to Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture

Dear Ms Hyslop

I write to you today in response to your announcement yesterday afternoon on the long awaited details of the  Scottish Government’s Event Industry Support Fund. I have also copied in my local MSP, John Swinney, and my local MP, Pete Wishart so they are aware of this correspondence.

I have to say that when the fund was announced, the value of it (£10m) in the context of a £6bn industry had me greatly concerned that it was barely going to scratch the surface of the widespread decimation that the events industry has seen since the start of the pandemic. The latest information has only confirmed my fears.

That only 600 businesses in the supply chain will be assisted by this new fund is nothing short of a disgrace. It is the exclusions towards applying to this fund that have concerned me even more. Firstly, please do not misunderstand me, my indignance at your announcement does not decry, in any way, the genuine respect I have for the army of independent event supply businesses who may be able to benefit from this funding, many of whom I feel privileged to call my colleagues. Their skills and talents are just as vital to the long term success of the Scottish events industry and they are worthy recipients of this grant funding which, I expect, will be much needed and much welcomed if they are, indeed, eligible to apply.

I am, however, extremely disappointed that my company, Volpa, a three times winner of the Scottish Event Awards for Best Marketing Strategy and a small employer in Perthshire, will not be eligible to apply for this fund. Not because our income from events hasn’t been sufficiently dented (it has) but because we have had the temerity to provide office accommodation for the staff we employ, who deliver our multi-award-winning work.

Sadly because we have already received the much needed (and now used) Small Business Support Grant back in April, which helped cover some (but not all) of the ongoing costs of our business against the immediate downturn in revenues we saw as a result of the cancellation of mass gathering back in early March.

However, like a great many operators in the events supply chain Volpa has been hit badly by the wholesale cancellation of these large scale events and, I don’t mind disclosing this, has lost significant revenues over the last 5 months as a direct result.

Just one of the events we normally work on, now cancelled, drives 80,000 visitors to the Perthshire area and contributes almost £7.6 million in economic value to this region annually. Another event, also cancelled, drives in excess of 30,000 visitors to the region and has an estimated economic impact of £4.6million. Part of that local economic impact is in the employment of local providers, like our small business, to deliver the sales and marketing required to drive visitors into our local economy in excess of 100,000 people every year.

However, as a business, we now face the genuine challenge of getting through the traditionally lean winter period on minimal income and, with furlough coming to an end, our people costs ramping back up again. I appreciate, I’m no John Maynard Keynes, but even I can project the economic outcome of this scenario.

Like so many business owners across this country I have already borrowed to the maximum available through the CBILS loan scheme, and applied for every grant scheme for which we have been eligible to obtain the cash flow we need to see us through this crisis. However the CBILS loan scheme is not perfect. We got precisely half of what we asked for and, while I appreciate my ‘crystal sales projection ball’ is probably no better than the bank’s on this pandemic, less funding simply reduces the time we have available to ride out the storm or completely overhaul our business.

As a result of the sustained nature of this downturn, we have already had to take the regrettable decision to make people redundant despite the furlough grant, and I now have my remaining team adopting a 4 day week with effect from 1st October in order to avoid (hopefully) making anyone else redundant. In short, we can’t rule that out either.

I know I am not alone in facing this situation. I spoke to another event supply operator who was forced into making 19 people redundant just last week for exactly the same reasons. There are a great many small businesses, employers, who are in the same boat, and not just in the events industry.

It astounds me that our Government is presiding over a recovery programme that is seeing so many excellent, market leading companies facing complete ruination because the support they need to get through this is simply not there. It seems to me that the Government’s strategy is, from what I can gather, “give each business £10k and see how many can survive”. It’s a spray and pray approach that strikes me as lacking in genuine understanding of how markets and economies actually work. If you think £10,000 will cover our wage bills and overheads for months, then you are greatly deluded.

I appreciate that the pandemic is an unprecedented situation and that, in turn, has created an unprecedented economic situation. Situations like these call for radical solutions. The furlough scheme was one such solution and it will have undoubtedly saved jobs. But the focus from Government needs to shift now from saving jobs to saving companies. It’s companies who create those jobs. It’s companies who create economic growth and recovery. Government(s) needs to stop tickling around the edges of this economic catastrophe and put some genuine support and subsistence behind those businesses who are employers, who have demonstrated that they have the grit and determination to survive economic uncertainty, and who are committed to growth and creating employment. The loss of skills and talent to the Scottish events industry is a travesty in the making and one which the government has it within their grasp to avoid. That is, unless the Government’s strategy is that Scotland will never run world class events again, in which case tell us now, and put us all out of our misery.

As someone who “celebrates” their 18th year in business this week and who has already seen off two economic downturns in that time, I am in no mood to be congratulatory towards hitting this significant milestone. This month I’ve had to say goodbye to 2 talented people who have lost their permanent jobs, agreed to put another member of my team on a voluntary unpaid sabbatical for the next 8 months, and have depressed the incomes of a further 8 talented people to a four day week. That’s real money that won’t be circulating in the local economy from this October. To finish the month learning that we are not eligible for a fund that has been allegedly set up with the precise intent of supporting those supply chain businesses, of which we are one, who make the hugely successful Scottish events industry the world class success it is, is nothing short of depressing.

I find myself now oscillating between two moods: heartbroken and enraged. Today, Ms Hyslop, it is the latter.

I urge you, and your fellow Government ministers, to genuinely reconsider your current approach to “supporting” Scotland’s event industry before Scotland’s “Perfect Stage” collapses altogether.


Tricia Fox